Friday, October 19, 2007

Ketchum returns fire at pro-pot advocate

Attorney claims city acted properly in rejecting initiative petition

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst determined this week that the city acted within its authority when it rejected a petition to put a pro-marijuana initiative before voters. Photo by Mountain Express

The city of Ketchum has fired its own barrage at pro-marijuana advocate Ryan Davidson, who last week accused city officials of being "ignorant, corrupt or cowardly" for allegedly thwarting his attempt to put a pot legalization initiative to the voters.

Ketchum's response to Davidson alleges that his "signature gathering effort was grossly deficient" and that the city acted within its legal authority in rejecting his petition. The response is in a letter of Oct. 16 to Davidson from City Attorney Benjamin Worst.

The letter further claims that "the mayor and council members had hoped to see your initiative on the November 2007 ballot." The letter does not explain why they had that desire.

In September, Davidson successfully placed four marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in Hailey. That city's electorate will vote on Nov. 6 on initiatives that would require Hailey to tax and regulate sales and use of marijuana, legalize medical use of the drug, make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority of the Hailey Police Department and legalize industrial use of hemp, a marijuana byproduct consisting of the fibrous plant stems.

At issue in Ketchum is Davidson's initiating petition, which he filed with the city in August of 2004. Worst says in his letter that a review of the petition by the city clerk found that only 13 signers are registered city voters, seven short of the 20 needed.

Worst further wrote that Davidson's petition bears the names of 44 signers, but many of them listed no addresses at all, others wrote down Hailey residences and one listed a Boston address.

"Accordingly, with this letter, the city of Ketchum is returning your original petition and encourages you to obtain the signatures of enough register voters to reach the required minimum," Worst wrote.

The city gave Davidson credit for the 13 signatures already verified, which means he only needs seven more.

Sounds easy enough, but Davidson has issues other than legalizing marijuana. He's also an advocate of forcing Idaho cities to comply with state law regarding citizen-initiated votes and claims that many municipalities do not.

His legal battles with Wood River Valley municipalities started in August 2004, when he presented marijuana legalization initiative petitions to the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey.

Davidson has won two major court victories since that time. In September 2006 the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Sun Valley did not have the right to determine the constitutionality of proposed initiatives, and in September U.S. District Court in Boise issued a preliminary injunction that barred the city of Hailey from enforcing its residency requirement against him.

Davidson is a former Bellevue resident who now lives in Garden City.

Worst further argued in his letter that contrary to Davidson's assertion, the city clerk is required to verify that petition signers are legitimate Ketchum voters.

"There is no question that the clerk must perform an examination," Worst wrote. "However, I would agree that the scope of that examination is not entirely clear."

Davidson could not be reached for comment by press deadline on Thursday. He earlier threatened legal action against the city if his original petition was not certified. He hopes to have marijuana legalization initiatives on Ketchum's primary election ballot in May 2008.

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